This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos graduated from Princeton University with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science — not business. The late Steve Jobs dropped out of his first year of college to study Buddhism in India before he became the leading force behind Apple. And Microsoft’s Bill Gates initially enrolled at Harvard on a pre-law track before switching his focus of study to mathematics and computer science before ultimately dropping out after his sophomore year.

There are traditional career pathways and non-traditional routes to jumpstarting a career.

Whether someone lands a job fresh out of college, takes a few years to explore different options, decides to start a business right out of high school, or changes professions at age 50, the journey can be and often is as important as the destination. And while resumes are important, they’re not everything — especially when it comes to the technology industry.

“What you see [from] actual research is that [connections and jobs] usually happen not through sending resumes and interviews, but through having met someone in the industry,” said Clinton Dreisbach, co-founder and CTO of Momentum Learning, a coding school in Durham. “I can point to my own career path and the larger evidence — most times that I’ve gotten [a job] is because I knew someone at the place I wanted to work.”

Lou Adler, CEO of performance-based Hiring Learning Systems, conducted a 2016 survey that revealed 85 percent of all jobs are filled via networking.

A prime example of “it’s who you know” (or who you run into) is Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg got her role as the COO of Facebook after meeting Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg at a holiday party. Though Sandberg’s resume and pedigree are impressive, her Facebook foray shows that networking matters.

Dreisbach said that Meetup groups are a great way to find people with similar interests and connect with professionals in the industry that you’re looking to break into. Momentum hosts several Meetups throughout the year that are open to the community.

“They’re also great for finding out if [the job] is something you want to do,” Dreisbach continued. “At Momentum, we do a lot of community courses. The main reason for those courses is so people can drop in for a few hours and walk out knowing, ‘Was that fun or not?’ If you like it, you might want to learn more and if you don’t, that’s great too.”

Dreisbach, who also co-founded ClojureBridge (an organization dedicated to helping women get into programming and web development), said technical skills are only half of what it takes to land a job in tech.

“You need to be a really good communicator, you need to be able to work in groups really well, and you need to have a broad knowledge of other types of work,” he said.

Sally Hall, a software engineer at GrowPath, a legal software startup in Durham, spent a large part of her career working “developer adjacent” as she calls it.

“I’ve always worked in tech companies, but not in technical roles all the time,” she explained. “I did minor in computer science in college, but mostly studied math. So, when I first got into software, I was not writing code [but instead] helping with testing it and project management [of it].”

Hall’s interest in tech was first piqued in college before she chose her minor. Hall said she waited too long to get any of the “good” summer jobs on campus and ended up moving boxes for her college’s IT department. In between moving boxes, she “weaseled her way” into becoming a tech support person and got her peers to train her.

“I worked there for three years and learned a ton, and that was sort of what got me first interested in working in technical companies,” she said.

Eventually, working in the tech industry wasn’t enough for Hall — she wanted in on the fun and pursued her dream role as a developer. When the now-closed Iron Yard coding school expanded to Charleston, where Hall was based, she decided it was time to seize the opportunity and took a front-end engineering class.

Her advice to anyone looking to break into tech or switch career paths: Go for it.

“It takes a lot of work, but if you really want to do it, you can do it. You just have to keep going,” she said. “There’s going to be a point where it gets discouraging, but if you really want to do it, it’s worth pushing through that … and continuing to learn.”

Hall said Momentum is a great place for people who are looking to break into the coding world. If you’re not able to immerse yourself in coding classes or a formalized education, Hall said you should find opportunities to pick up bits of technical work at your current job.

“Say you’re working in a restaurant and they’re switching over to a new software system. Be the person who is most excited to learn that. Be the person who understands it the best and explains it to other people, and start jumping into the technical parts of whatever role you’re in now,” she advised.

From a recruiting perspective, companies are also looking for soft skills and a good culture fit that go beyond an eye-catching resume. Melissa Crosby would know. Crosby has spent a long career in talent acquisition, recruiting for startups and local tech companies such as Bronto, Pendo and now Kaleido.

“There are lots of people who can be great on paper and really technically sound, but if they turn out [not to be] a part of the team and willing to collaborate, they’re not going to be hired,” she said.

To stand out, candidates should list any special skills and certifications they may have as it pertains to the role they are seeking, but also show off their interpersonal skills come interview time.

“If you can’t do it in person, try to do a cover letter,” Crosby said.

Crosby also confirmed the importance of networking and recommended focusing on a network of five companies that you’d like to work for, and connecting with individuals from those companies.

“For me, meeting you and hearing your story — those kinds of things help me get more excited about a candidate and [help me] remember you with all the other 30 people I’ve got in my head,” she said.

Dreisbach added, “It’s [about] learning and hard work … you absolutely can do it. Don’t let any sort of inner worry get in your way.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.